On the STi, Evo and ‘Godzilla’ battle, the jury is still out

Hi Baraza,
I have been arguing with my friends over which would be the winner in a battle involving the Subaru ST-i, the Mistubishi Evo VIII and ‘Godzilla’ (the Nissan GT-R R34).

I believe in the Evo due to its superior handling capabilities while the others go with the ST-i due to its superior acceleration.

Now, I’m not that well versed with the GTR, but from what I’ve read in this column, it seems that Nissan is a miracle of Asian engineering. So would you kindly set the record straight; when Jeremy Clarkson featured the cars, there was no straightforward answer.

And, on another note, was the M-class series of Mercedes a failure?

There has been no clear winner between the Evo and the ST-i. Personally, I swing the Evo way. The two cars are fundamentally the same, but there are differences.

The Impreza, through its numerous iterations, used mechanical differentials whereas the Evo applied a variety of electronic gizmos (AWC, AYC, etc) to switch torque back, forth, left and right.

The result is that the ST-i was harder to turn and had a tendency to understeer. and unprofessional suspension tuning usually made the understeer worse.

The Evo, on the other hand, handled sharply, turned better and carried more speed into and through corners, besides having a slightly higher corner exit velocity. It lost out (ever so slightly) to the ST-i in straight line speed.

ST-i pundits will yak about the near-perfect balance (owing to the boxer engine forming a straight line with the transmission and final drives through the centre of the car), against the Evo’s transversely laid in-line engine. Ignore them.

The R34 allegedly made 280 hp in factory spec, but since it developed more torque and carried that torque to higher revs than the R33, car reviewers suspected that the output was more like 320 hp, which was in direct contravention of a now-defunct gentleman’s agreement in Japan that all Japanese domestic market manufacturers will not build cars with a power output greater than 280hp.

I wonder why none of those reviewers never put Godzilla on a dyno to find out.

The GT-R’s magic comes from the ATTESA 4WD system that makes it turn at unbelievable speed. The vehicle enjoyed spectacular success in many racing series, particularly the JGTC, prompting race organisers to repeatedly make rules disfavouring the R34, if only to create a bit of competition and variety on the podium.

Its biggest disadvantage is weight, tipping the scales at close to 1,800 kg against the 1.5 tons of the two four-door saloons.

About the M-Class, the first generation was not exactly a sales failure, but it was a low point in Daimler’s history. They learnt never to design and build a car in America again, because it would come out American, which has never been a good thing.

Hi,

I’m really interested in cars and currently drive a Nissan B15 to school. I would like to know why you, in a way, hate on it because so far its okay for me.

It is not so much hate as disregard. Reliability issues, especially concerning suspension components and the fact that it ages disgracefully, has put the car off in my books. But take good care of it and it should return the love. Treat it the way some Nyeri women treat their hubbies and it will be just as unkind to you.

JM,

I have noticed that almost all Japanese cars, even fairly new ones, are permanently topped with engine coolant — you pop into a petrol station (especially ladies) and the attendants quickly notice how low your coolant is and offer it for a fee. But is engine coolant a necessity?

A normal operating engine with a working cooling system is designed to automatically keep your engine cool at all times. If your engine is overheating, you don’t need the cooling stuff, you need to have your engine checked. Correct me if I am wrong.

Yes, you are partly wrong. Sometimes coolant leaks and needs topping up. Remember heat capacities in physics? A greater mass of liquid will absorb more heat (that is, require more energy to warm up) than a smaller mass? The more coolant you have, the longer the engine will stay without getting unduly warm.

The reddish (coloured) coolant is actually anti-freeze, stuff we do not really need here, unless you live in Nyahururu where it sometimes “snows”. Anti-freeze is made to have an extremely low melting point so that it will take temperatures far below zero to freeze over.

Coolant is water based, and, again, from physics, we know about the anomalous expansion of water, where between 0 and -4 degrees, ice actually expands rather than contracts with a drop in temperature, and this expansion can do a great deal of damage to the cooling system and engine block.

Anti-freeze added once in a while (after several top ups of water, how many is not important) is a good idea even here around the equator because it also contains cleaning and anti-corrosion agents, which will keep your cooling ducts/pipes and radiator clear of build-up and rust. Okay now?

Baraza,

You have mentioned on about two occasions the engine of a Honda car — can’t remember the specific make — and you heaped a lot of praise on it, especially in comparison to the Nissan X-trail and that class of engines. Please enlighten me on this.

Secondly, my understanding of turbo engines was about more power and same fuel consumption as a non-turbo car, but from your articles I gather that this is not the case and that turbo engines are “fragile”. True?

Actually, what I like about Honda engines is the V-TEC boffinry (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control).

It gives the engine a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality: below 5,000 rpm, it is docile, quiet and “teetotal”, get beyond 5,000 rpm and it turns into a wild, manic, racer-like dipsomaniac and will keep revving all the way to 9,000 rpm for most Type R cars and 10,000 rpm for the Honda S2000 sports car. Heady stuff, this.

I also mentioned the two-stage CVCC cylinder heads pioneered by Soichiro’s engineers way back in 1975. These revolutionised emissions control and fuel economy so that Honda did not have to fit power-sapping catalytic converters to its cars (the tiny cartoon-like Civic at the time).

These heads were tried even in the huge, thirsty American V8 engines and the results were spectacular.

Lambda sensor technology has since rendered the CVCC heads unnecessary.

Turbo engines will burn a little more fuel because a lot more air is going into the engine, and to avoid burning a leaner mixture than 14.7-to-1, a bit more fuel has to be fed in.

But the power jump is astonishing and worth the effort, especially compared to tuning an NA engine to produce the same power without forced induction. The result is actually improved consumption, for the output.

These engines are not exactly fragile, but they don’t take abuse very well. Damaging the turbo (very easy with a little carelessness) is an expensive mistake. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions keenly and you will be fine.

Hi Baraza,
I would like to know what ‘cruise control’ is all about. Is it good to have a car with this feature?

Christopher

Cruise control is an electronic feature that allows a car to maintain a steady speed without the driver using the accelerator or the brake. If you want to cruise at 100 km/h, accelerate to 100, set the cruise control and let go of the throttle.

You can either disengage it manually, deactivate it by braking or accelerating, or adjust it upwards or downwards using buttons around the driver (mostly on the steering wheel). This is how it worked in the Jaguar XJ saloon I drove last year.

The problem is that the car will try to do 100 km/h EVERYWHERE, including uphill, so fuel consumption might not be to your liking. There are chances that it may also have a soporific effect on the driver, leading to reduced alertness and consequently, sleep-swerve-hoot-screech-crash-bang-wallop-blood-tears-hospital bills-funeral expenses.

Hi,

I would like some general advice regarding the small Maruti Omni. I want a small car to use in my small business and also as a family car, occasionally travelling upcountry without struggling with matatus. I don’t mind the image associated with the car.

Mulwa

So far, you seem to have it down pat, apart from two things:

1. Use as a family car: I’m sure you love your family, but toting them from A to B in a Maruti is a sure-fire way of ensuring you will not get any gifts from them come Father’s Day.

2. How occasionally is “occasionally”? Your upcountry base had better be no further than Machakos because, again, this is not a vehicle to spend too much time in. Ukambani in general is hot, and the lack of interior space or an air-con will be a heavy cross to bear in this pre-April rains heat. Especially with your family on board.

Hi JM,

Kindly offer me your advice on these two cars: a black Subaru Impreza (hatchback) and a silver Subaru Impreza (sedan), which one is a better buy when considering efficiency, spare parts and so on?

Both cars have 1.5-litre engines but the hatchback is a 2005 car while the sedan is a 2006 car. The last car I had was a Mitsubishi Cedia, which was just hell.

The gearbox collapsed after just two months and getting a replacement was like going to the moon!

Allan

I would go for the sedan, repaint it blue, add a stonking huge rear spoiler, body kit and gold rims and fit a noisy exhaust; then I would drive like I was about to die and only three-figure speeds could save my life. ST-i owners/drivers, do you read me?

The car to go for is entirely up to you, Allan. Do you want a sedan or a hatchback? A hatchback may offer more practicality in carrying luggage, but the sedan looks better. Mechanically, the two are the same.

Hi Baraza,

I’m a businessman based in Nairobi. I also double up as a farmer, so I’m a complete “off-roadholic”.

I am looking to buy a double cabin 4WD pick-up truck that will comfortably do my kids’ school runs, carry bags of fertiliser to my farm every now and then and on school holidays, comfortably handle the terrain in Maasai Mara during the long rains… if you get my drift.

I’m torn between the Toyota Hilux, the Nissan Navara, the Isuzu D-MAX and the Ford Ranger. Please rate these cars for me in terms of consumption, build quality, durability, off-road handling, and cost and availability of spare parts.

Kevin

If you followed my articles last year, you may have noticed that, were it not for the outright weirdness of the act, I would buy a Navara as a Valentine’s gift. Luckily or unluckily, I don’t own a Navara. Yet.

Consumption: That same Navara is a bit worrisome; I suspect it either runs a higher boost pressure in the turbo or it has a small tank, either way, when pitted against a Ford Ranger, it emptied its tank quite fast.

I have driven the latest Hilux, two weeks ago in fact, but I did not get to empty its tank, nor did I empty the Ranger’s tank last year, so it is hard to say which of the two will give you a better range. Absolute consumption depends on the degree of madness within your right foot.

Build quality: The Navara. Its build quality is an exercise of near-Germanic obsession in terms of panel gap consistencies, solid feel and material science. Better than the other three.

Durability: I’d have to say it is a close call between Toyota and Ford, with my observations leaning towards the Ranger. Strange, yes, but the Ford seems like it is built out of rock — I have yet to see a weather-beaten example.

On the other hand, the Hilux pick-ups in use by large corporations and municipal councils don’t look too good after some time. The Navara also faces some complaints by users, some of whom complain that somebody somewhere cannot do a proper diagnosis. I don’t know how true this is.

Off-road handling: They should all do well, because more often than not, if the going gets military, the weakest link is usually found behind the wheel.

Cost: The Hilux is dearest and the D-MAX is cheapest. With the Ford, it depends on which spec you go for, but it varies within these two extremes. The Navara is second to Hilux in expensiveness.

Spares: These cars are all franchised, so DT Dobie for the Navara, GM for the D-MAX, Toyota Kenya for the Hilux and CMC for the Ranger. Costs of spares will depend on what these people tell you.

JM,

I would like to bring you back to your article in which you said that the Toyota Verossa is an ugly car. In my opinion, I think the principle applicable here is the same one used when judging the beauty of woman — beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

I agree with you that the car is ugly, but of late, it has been growing beautiful by the day, like a woman you might not find so beautiful on the first day but as you get to know her better, you start to notice her beauty.

To support my point, I will remind you of the Mercedes W210. When the car was first introduced to the market, there was an uproar from die-hard Mercedes fans (including me) who found the round lights peculiar.

However, with time, the car has grown on us and become more and more beautiful, I am sure you agree with that.

A woman will add weight if too thin, shed weight if too weighty, she will lose her pre-pubescent clumsiness as she matures, and life experiences will instill confidence in her and her eyes will acquire a worldliness that we find attractive whenever we gaze into them.

A car, on the other hand, embarks on a relentless downward free-fall the moment it leaves the showroom, shedding 30 per cent of its value at the door. It can only lose shape from that point onwards. Starting off ugly does not do it any favours; it won’t “mature”, or lose baby fat, or tone its muscles with a session at the gym.

This explains why the Verossa had the shortest life span of all Toyota cars ever, except, maybe, their Formula 1 car.

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